Tuesday, June 9, 2009 4:07 PM

The Good, the Bad, and the Yucky

There are many other ingredients in pet food that are not necessarily listed on the label. Some of these additives are added to increase the shelf life of the product, while others simply make the food more attractive to the consumer (you). What are they and what is their purpose?

Antioxidants are added to pet food to retard rancidity. When fats react with oxygen, a chemical process occurs which causes the food to become toxic. Vitamins, especially fat-soluble ones, are destroyed and dangerous peroxides are created. In the 1960s, canned cat food made with fish and fish oils contained no antioxidants and caused steatitis developed in cats who ate the food. Rancidity depleted vitamin E, causing neurological problems in the affected cats, many of whom died painful deaths. This occurred particularly in tuna cat food, the most popular flavor due to its very strong taste and smell. Once antioxidants were added to the product, the problem abated. A common chemical antioxidant is ethoxyquin. It is cheap, and gets the job done. Since many pet foods contain fish and vegetable oils, the addition of this chemical appears to be a necessary evil. While some sources claim that it is inert, others say that it can cause disease in dogs.

Antimicrobials and preservatives inhibit bacterial growth. Propylene glycol is a common one know to cause illness in both dogs and cats. Propyl gallate has been implicated in liver disease and sodium nitrite, also used in human foods, can react with bacteria to form nitrosamines--known to be carcinogenic. Other well-known chemical preservatives used in pet food that have been shown to cause health problems in humans are BHT, methyl- and propylparaben and butylated hydoxyanisole.

Emulsifiers, stabilizers and thickeners are used to make the product more homogeneous. When you open a can of cat food, manufacturers don't want you to see a big globby mess of separated ingredients--they want you to think of the product as a nice, firm, meat patty! These additives make this possible. They are legion, so I will only mention a couple that can cause problems. Carageenan, a thickener made from seaweed (sounds natural, doesn't it?) has been shown to cause intestinal inflammation. If your pet often has gas, diarrhea and other digestive disturbances, this could be the culprit. I have read of many examples in my research of dogs with diarrhea who recover when placed on a homemade diet. When the owners give them commercial food again, the problem returns. Guar gum is another that causes digestive upset in dogs.

Artificial coloring and flavorings are added entirely for the benefit of the pet owners. Have you ever opened a can of inexpensive cat food and found it to be unnaturally reddish pink? Makes you wonder what the real color is! Red, blue and yellows are added with impunity and often without being listed on the label. Although the owners aren't eating the food, I believe that the artificial flavors are added to make the food more palatable to pets mostly so that owners will continue to buy them. If Skippy is snarfing up his artificially colored and flavored food in no time flat, it must be good, right?

There is a way to avoid some or even all of these food additives. We'll check it out tomorrow.

What the...? The June 1 issue of The Nation reports that Chrysler is using bailout money (read: our money) to close U.S. plants and increase production in their plants in Mexico. Now that GM has declared bankruptcy (despite millions of our money being funneled to them) it is expected that they will follow the same path. How's that for a kick in the pants? Hey--aren't these the guys who used to tell us to "buy American"? What a country.
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Amanda has worked with animals for many years and has always had cats in her life. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two excellent cats.
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